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Ayala: “For the record, I read Signature in the Cell”

Jay W. Richards

Over at BioLogos, Professor Francisco Ayala has responded to Signature of Controversy — the collection of responses to criticisms of Signature in the Cell. As with the previous Ayala response at BioLogos, this one includes an introduction by Darrell Falk.

The burden of Ayala’s response is to wax indignant that some of us have suggested, based on his original “response” to Signature in the Cell, that he had not actually read the book. Why would we suggest that? Well, because he so profoundly misrepresented Meyer’s thesis.

Here’s what he said: “The keystone argument of Signature [sic] of the Cell is that chance, by itself, cannot account for the genetic information found in the genomes of organisms.” He goes on to suggest that Meyer spends “most” of his book attempting to refute the chance hypothesis. Really.

This is such a whopper that I would have expected Ayala not to bring it up again. But in his current response, he begins:

Dr. Stephen Meyer writes: “eminent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala does not appear to have even made a search for the crib notes online. Indeed, … it appears that he did little more than glance at the title page and table of contents” (p. 9). David Klinghoffer disagrees: “My colleague Dr. Meyer thinks Ayala did read the Table of Contents, but I must disagree” (p. 19).

Is this the kind of language Meyer and Klinghoffer want to use to engage in constructive dialogue with their critics? Or does it represent a distinctive way in which members of the Discovery Institute seek to practice Christian charity?

For the record, I read Signature in the Cell.

To justify his original characterization of Meyer’s book, Ayala then offers an analysis of the index of Signature in the Cell, which lists a variety of pages in which “chance” appears, to establish his original assertion. This discussion is beginning to enter the Twilight Zone.

Ayala implies that Discovery Institute folks have failed to practice Christian charity in suggesting that he didn’t read Signature in the Cell before commenting on it. (This is a curious complaint, coming from Ayala, who has repeatedly charged that intelligent design is blasphemy.) But does anyone — friend or critic–actually believe that Ayala provided an accurate summary of Meyer’s argument? Would Darrell Falk, for instance, be willing to state, on the record, that “[t]he keystone argument of Signature [in] the Cell is that chance, by itself, cannot account for the genetic information found in the genomes of organisms”?

I’m willing to state, for the record, that I don’t think that any competent reader could read SITC, with its chapters lovingly devoted to critiques of self-organizational theories, pre-biotic selection theories that combine chance and necessity, and which explores the possibility of chance while clearly stating that the chance hypothesis is no longer seriously entertained by origin-of-life theorists, and come away thinking that Ayala had accurately summarized the book. That would be true even if the word “chance” occurred on every single page. You don’t find the thesis of a book in its index, for goodness’ sake.

Given the above assumption, and the assumption that Ayala is a competent reader — both ideas shared by my colleagues who have weighed in on this question — by far the most charitable interpretation of Ayala’s summary is that he didn’t read the book. If he really has read Signature in the Cell, and yet is still defending his false summary, what should we conclude?

Jay W. Richards

Senior Fellow, Assistant Research Professor, Executive Editor
Jay Richards, Ph.D., O.P., is an Assistant Research Professor in the School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America, Executive Editor of The Stream and a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute where he works with the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality. In addition to writing many academic articles, books, and popular essays on a wide variety of subjects, he edited the award winning anthology God & Evolution and co-authored The Privileged Planet.  His most recent book is The Human Advantage. Richards has a Ph.D., with honors, in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, an M.Div., a Th.M., and a B.A. with majors in Political Science and Religion. He lives with his family in the Washington DC Metro area.